Carmenere is a wine grape variety originally planted in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France, where it was used for blending purposes to produce deep red wines.
A member of the Cabernet family of grapes, the name 'Carmenere' originates from the French word for crimson (carmin) which refers to the brilliant crimson colour of the autumn foliage prior to leaf-fall. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Carmenere is considered part of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux.
It is rare to find Carmenere wines in France today, the Phylloxera plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vines, for many years the grape was presumed extinct. When Bordeaux was were replanted, Carmenere was extremely hard to find and more difficult to grow. The region's damp, chilly spring weather gave rise to 'coulure', plus with other ripening issues, Carmenere was progressively abandoned.
Carmenere has been thriving in Chile; growers unintentionally preserved the grape variety during the last 150 years, Carmenere cuttings were imported from Bordeaux in the 1850's prior to Phylloxera, where they were frequently confused with Merlot. Chile has the world's largest area planted, with more than 8,800 hectares (2009).
Due to Chile's unique geography growers produce healthy crops of Carmenere. In 1994, Professor Jean-Michel Boursiquot confirmed that these vines were the Bordeaux Carmenere, not Merlot. The Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognized Carmenere as a distinct variety in 1998. Today, Carmenere grows chiefly in the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, and Maipo Province.
Carmenere wine has a deep red colour and aromas of red fruits, spices and berries. The tannins are softer than those in Cabernet Sauvignon. Although mostly used as a blending grape, wineries do make a pure varietal Carmenere which, when made from grapes at optimal ripeness, imparts a smoky, spicy and earthy notes and on the palate, dark chocolate, tobacco, and leather. The wine is best enjoyed young.